Sibling Rivalry is Natural

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The truth is that siblings don't always get along well in their younger years, and they usually spend a lot of their time arguing and fighting.  They do this to "conquer" the other one, but sometimes to force the attention of the parents.  Give one-on-one time to each child.  Yes, the older ones need it too.  If you are a two-parent family, take turns.  

Sibling rivalry is natural.  I have had people tell me that they were thirteen, fourteen, or sixteen  years old when their sibling was born and they still felt jealous of the attention the little one received.  These adolescents had their own  peer group and social life to keep them busy and involved outside the parental home.  However, they still found themselves comparing the treatment they received by their parents with the one received by their baby sister or brother.  They would "revisit" their childhood.  Several teenagers who acquired a sibling for the first time revealed that they felt their parents were more "strict," more "fussy" with them.  One said, "they didn't buy such expensive gifts for me."  

So if you are a parent, frustrated and disappointed with sibling rivalry and wished it had disappeared from your family, liken sibling rivalry to the weather.  Weather is a given, we just have to work with it or around it, but we can't go too far away from it.  In spite of the inevitable rivalry, you can help your youngsters bond with one another and get along more peacefully.  Treat them fairly and evenly.  Treat sib fight as a joint responsibility.  Hold both kids responsible for an argument or a fight.  Don't shame the children for their rivalry though.  If they resent too strongly the way parents sham them, they might carry the scars for a long time which may affect their relationship in years to come.  On the other hand, if sib rivalry is properly handled, they would reminisce about those times, laugh about them, and bond even more in doing so.  Those would be memories of fun rather than pain.  

"Ask no question and you shall be told no lies."  Do not ask what happened.  It only sets up children to lie and encourages them lose the sight of their responsibility for their action.  Do not let your younger one pull your heart string for being so small and helpless.  Younger ones very quickly find out that the way to get back at the older one is by getting him or her in trouble with the parents.  These little ones are crafty and exploit it to the hilt.  For example, the little one, knowing that a parent is within the earshot distance, can simply look at the older one and smile and keep doing it until the older one can't take it any more.  He lashes out at the younger one  Now the younger one will use his greatest weapon, that is crying, and run towards the parent for comforting and protection  

I was the youngest one in my siblings.  I and my older brother ate together.  We would often sit next to each other.  There wouldn't be any adults sitting with us.  In India, members of a family eat in twos or threes.  It is not the custom  for the whole family to sit and eat at the table.  A lot of times, I got my four-year older brother in trouble by using a very simple trick.  I would just touch his plate.  Nothing would infuriate him more than knowing that I was doing it on purpose.  Every time I did it, I got to him, but my parents would always tell my older brother to act more maturely and take care of his younger brother.  

Don't expect an older child during the fight to behave with greater restraint and self-control than the younger one.  For example, an eight year old child can't be that much more advanced in self-control than his four-year old brother or sister.  Sometimes, we adults don't exercise that level of self-restraint and emotional maturity which we expect from little children.  Saying to an older child, "You should be taking care of your younger brother rather than fighting with him," shames the older child and makes him all the more resentful of his younger brother.  The younger child then gets a license to really test his older brother out to the limits.  

Above all, remember to praise and reward each time when you see kids helping each other,  cooperating, working, and playing together.  We parents tend to intervene when kids engage in problem behaviors and we leave them alone as long as they are playing nicely, doing their homework, and behaving as we expect them to.  So to get our attention, children have to do something drastic.  Parents need to be constantly on the look out to "catch" kids doing the right thing.  When you see that, just go there and give them a hug.  Even if you don't say why you are giving them a hug, their little bodies will tell them that they are doing the right thing and they will do more of the same.  


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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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